A series of coordinated attacks in Chechnya this week were carried out by teenagers and children as young as 11, local officials said, blaming a campaign of online recruiting by extremist groups.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for three separate attacks in the Russian republic on Monday.
The attacks, which included an attempted suicide bombing, a car ramming and a raid on a police station, left several police officers in the town of Shali with knife wounds. Four of the five attackers were killed, police said.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the regional leader installed by Vladimir Putin, said the young assailants had been “confused” by Isis recruiters using social media.
“The fact that they recruit mentally immature teenagers shows that the ‘masters’ don’t have even a trace of shame or conscience,” Kadyrov said in a post on the social media site Telegram. He suggested the attack was targeted before the Eid al-Adha Islamic holiday.
Chechnya’s minister of communications, Dzhambulat Umarov, told the Tass news agency the attackers ranged in age from 11 to 16. He said Isis was targeting teenagers and younger children in its recruitment campaigns.
All information on the attacks has come from Chechen officials and Russian law enforcement. One of the teenagers attempted a suicide bombing and was hospitalised, said Alvi Karimov, an aide to Kadyrov. Two others attempted to detonate a gas canister in a car, then tried to ram the vehicle into a group of police officers.
“They drove around the city, failed to stop the car when ordered and were liquidated,” Karimov said.
The attacks took place in Shali as well as the capital, Grozny, and the town of Mesker-Yurt. All of the attackers were part of a single group from Shali, said Karimov.
The Kremlin turned to Kadyrov to keep Chechnya stable after fighting two wars and to subdue an insurgency that has been simmering in the republic since the 1990s. His security forces have been accused of human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings, during the crackdown.
Kadyrov has also sought to establish a role as a cultural leader, urging Chechens to follow a strict Islamic law that recognises the supremacy of the state. He has used television to publicly berate and demand apologies from the families of those who have made complaints in public against his government.
While attacks are not unusual in Chechnya and can often involve adult veterans of previous conflicts in the republic and abroad, it is rare for an assault to be comprised entirely of minors or involve children this young. The composition of the group would point to the shifting patterns of online recruitment among young Russian-speaking men.